APPENDIX 5 - JOHN STOTT: ISSUES FACING CHRISTIANS TODAY

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017

This appendix contains excerpts from John Stott’s chapter on ‘Women, Men and God’ in his book Issues Facing Christians Today, 1990, pp 254-281.

[Note: Emphasis added.]

‘It is clear, then, that feminism in all its forms – whether non-Christian, Christian or post-Christian – presents the church with an urgent challenge. Feminism cannot be dismissed as a secular bandwagon which trendy churches (in their worldliness) jump on board. Feminism is about creation and redemption, love and justice, humanity and ministry. It obliges us to ask ourselves some searching questions. What does “justice” mean in reference to both men and women? What does God intend our relationships and roles to be? What is the meaning of our masculinity and femininity? How are we to discover our true identity and dignity? ...’ p257

About equality
‘... it is clear from the first chapter of the Bible onwards the fundamental equality of the sexes is affirmed. Whatever is essentially human in both male and female reflects the divine image which we equally bear. And we are equally called to rule the earth, to co-operate with the Creator in the development of its resources for the common good.

‘This primeval sexual equality was, however, distorted by the Fall. Part of God’s judgment on our disobedient progenitors was his word to the woman: “Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” Thus the sexes would experience a measure of alienation from one another. In place of the equality of the one with the other, and of the complementarity of the one to the other ... there would come the rule of the one over the other. Even if ... sexual complementarity included from the beginning a certain masculine “headship” ... it was never intended to be autocratic or oppressive. The domination of woman by man is due to the Fall, not to the Creation.

‘Moreover, men have misused this judgment of God as an excuse to maltreat and subjugate women in ways God never intended. ...

‘... Without any fuss or publicity, Jesus’ (in his attitude to women) ‘terminated the curse of the Fall, reinvested woman with her partially lost nobility, and reclaimed for his new Kingdom community the original creation blessing of sexual equality.’

[Galatians 3:28] ‘affirms that all who by faith are in Christ are equally accepted, equally God’s children, without any distinction, discrimination or favouritism according to race, sex or class. So, whatever may need to be said later about sexual roles, there can be no question of one sex being superior or inferior to the other. Before God and in Christ “there is neither male nor female”. We are equal.

‘Sexual equality, then, established by creation but perverted by the Fall, was recovered by the redemption that is in Christ. What redemption remedies is the Fall; what it recovers and re-establishes is the Creation. Thus men and women are absolutely equal in worth before God – equally created by God like God, equally justified by grace through faith, equally regenerated by the outpoured Spirit. In other words, in the new community of Jesus we are not only equally sharers of God’s image, but also equally heirs of his grace in Christ (1Peter 3:7) and equally indwelt by his Spirit. This Trinitarian equality (our common participation in Father, Son and Holy Spirit) nothing can ever destroy. Christians and churches in different cultures have denied it; but it is an indestructible fact of the gospel.’ p261,262

About complementarity
‘Although men and women are equal, they are not the same. Equality and identity are not to be confused. We are different from one another, and we complement one another in the distinctive qualities of our own sexuality, psychological as well as physiological. This fact influences our different and appropriate roles in society. As NH Yoder has written, “equality of worth is not identity of role”.

‘When we investigate male and female roles, however, we must be careful not to acquiesce uncritically in the stereotypes which our particular culture may have developed, let alone imagine that Moses brought them down from Mount Sinai along with the Ten Commandments. This would be a serious confusion of Scripture and convention...

‘What is revealed in the second story of creation is that, although God made male and female equal, he also made them different. For in Genesis 1 masculinity and femininity are related to God’s image, while in Genesis 2 they are related to each other, Eve being taken out of Adam and brought to him. Genesis 1 declares the equality of the sexes; Genesis 2 clarifies that “equality” means not “identity” but “complementarity” ... It is this “equal but different” state which we find hard to preserve. Yet they are not incompatible; they belong to each other as essential aspects of the biblical revelation.

‘Because men and women are equal (by creation and in Christ), there can be no question of the inferiority of either to the other. But because they are complementary, there can be no question of the identity of one with the other... ‘

‘... the debate about the distinctions between men and women continues. Are they due to ... unchanging biological differences between male and female, or to ... changing cultural differences between masculine and feminine? Also ... which of them are due to the Creation (and therefore to be preserved), and which to the Fall (and therefore to be overcome)?’

About responsibility
[Refers to Paul’s concept of male headship in Eph 5:23 and 1Cor 11:3].

‘But what does this “headship” mean? And how can it possibly be reconciled with sexual equality and complementarity?

‘Three ways of resolving the paradox between sexual equality and masculine headship have been proposed. Some affirm headship so strongly as to contradict equality ... Others deny headship because they see it as incompatible with equality. The third group seeks to interpret headship, and to affirm it in such a way as to harmonize with, and not contradict, equality.

‘... the right way forward seems to be to ask two questions. First, what does “headship” mean? Can it be understood in such a way as to be compatible with equality, while at the same time not manipulating it or evacuating it of meaning? Secondly, once headship has been defined, what does it prohibit? What ministries (if any) does it render inappropriate for women? Thus, the meaning and the application of “headship” are crucial to the ongoing debate.

‘How, then, can we interpret the meaning of headship with care and integrity, and allow Scripture to reform our traditions in this respect? We certainly have to reject the whole emotive language of hierarchy, as if headship means patriarchy or patronizing paternalism, autocracy or domination, and as if submission to it means subordination, subjection or subjugation. We must develop a biblical understanding of masculine headship which is fully consistent with the created equality of Genesis 1, the outpouring of the Spirit on both sexes at Pentecost (Acts 2:17ff) and their unity in Christ and in his new community (Galatians 3:28).

‘... the word “authority” is never used in the New Testament to describe the husband’s role, nor “obedience” the wife’s. Nor does “subordination” seem to me to be the right word to describe her submission. Although it would be a formally correct translation of the Greek hupotage, it has in modern parlance unfortunate overtones of inferiority, even of military rank and discipline...

‘How then shall we understand kephale, “head”, and what kind of masculine headship does Paul envisage? It is unfortunate that the lexical debate confines us to the choice between “source of” and “authority over”. There is a third option which contains an element of both. On the one hand, headship must be compatible with equality. For if “the head of the woman is man” as “the head of Christ is God”, then man and woman must be equal as the Father and the Son are equal. On the other hand, headship implies some degree of leadership, which, however, is expressed not in terms of “authority” but of “responsibility”. The choice of this word is not arbitrary. It is based on the way in which kephale is understood in Ephesians 5 and on the two models Paul develops to illustrate the head’s attitude to the body. The first is Christ’s attitude to his body, the church, and the second is the personal concern which we human beings all have for the welfare of our own bodies. ...

‘The husband’s headship of his wife, therefore, is a headship more of care than of control, more of responsibility than of authority. As her “head”, he gives himself up for her in love, just as Christ did for his body, the church. And he looks after her, as we do our own bodies. His concern is not to crush her, but to liberate her. As Christ give himself for his bride, in order to present her to himself radiant and blameless, so the husband gives himself for his bride, in order to create the conditions within which she may grow into the fullness of her womanhood....’

‘The resolute desire of women to know, be and develop themselves, and to use their gits in the service of the world, is so obviously God’s will for them, that to deny or frustrate it is an extremely serious oppression. It is a woman’s basic right and responsibility to discover herself, her identity and her vocation. The fundamental question is in what relationship with men will women find and be themselves. Certainly not in a subordination which implies inferiority to men and engenders low self-esteem. ... “Equality” and “partnership” between the sexes are sound biblical concepts. But not if they are pressed into denying a masculine headship of protective care. It is surely a distorted headship of domination which has convinced women that they cannot find themselves that way. Only the biblical ideal of headship, which because it is selflessly loving may be justly be called “Christlike”, can convince them that it will facilitate, not destroy, their true identity. ...’

About ministry
‘... if God saw no impediment against calling women to a teaching role, the burden of proof lies with the church to show why it should not appoint women to similar responsibilities.’

‘... on the Day of Pentecost ... God poured out his Spirit on “all people”, including “sons and daughters” and his “servants, both men and women”. It the gift of the Spirit was bestowed on all believers of both sexes, so were his gifts. There is no evidence, or even hint, that the charismata in general were restricted to men, although apostleship does seem to have been. On the contrary, the Spirit’s gifts were distributed to all for the common good ... We must conclude, therefore, not only that Christ gives charismata (including the teaching gifts) to women, but that alongside his gifts he issues his call to develop and exercise them in his service and in the service of others, for the building up of his body.’

[Stott understands 1Cor. 14:34,35 to be addressed to loquacious women who were disturbing public worship with their questions, not to all women; just as he has ordered prophets and tongue-speakers to be quiet under certain restrictions. He understands that 11:5 and 14:26 (‘each of you’) both indicate that women were allowed to speak in public church meetings.]

[About 1Timothy 2:11ff:]
‘... Is it further possible, then, that the demand for female silence was not an absolute prohibition of women teaching men, but rather a prohibition of every kind of teaching by women which attempts to reverse sexual roles and even domineer over men? ...

‘... I believe that there are situations in which it is entirely proper for women to teach, and to teach men, provided that in so doing they are not usurping an improper authority over them. For this to be so, three conditions need to be fulfilled, relating to the content, context and style of their teaching. ...

[Stott’s discussion of content is similar to John Dixon’s perspective. The kind of teaching done by the foundational apostles has long ago been completed. Today’s ‘teachers’, both men and women, are under the authority of the apostolic teaching now formalised in the canon of Scripture. His discussion of context sees a team of elders, of which at least one is a woman, and of which a man is the team leader. His discussion of style includes submission to the authority of Scripture and, in respect to women teachers, women who ‘have come to terms with their sexual identity and are not trying to be, or behave like, men.’]

‘... It seems then to be biblically permissible for women to teach men, provided that the content of their teaching is biblical, its context a team and its style humble. For in such a situation they would be exercising their gift without claiming a responsible “headship” which is not theirs.’ ...

‘I continue to believe from Scripture that the principle of male headship is a revealed and creational, and therefore universal and permanent, truth; that it needs therefore to be publicly and visibly expressed; and that a male team leadership (especially in a local church and diocese) is an appropriate cultural symbol to express it in the twentieth century, as veils and silence did in the first. Exceptions can prove this rule; they do not undermine it.’ ...

‘Our Christian struggle, in the midst of and indeed against the prevailing secularism, is to bear witness to the twin biblical principles of sexual equality and male headship, ... as we debate how this can best and most appropriately be done.’

[Stott quotes JI Packer’s conviction from the Scripture: “... the man-woman relationship is intrinsically non-reversible .... This is part of the reality of creation, a given fact that nothing will change. Certainly, redemption will not change it, for grace restores nature, not abolishes it.” ...we need to “theologize reciprocity, spiritual equality, freedom for ministry, and mutual submission and respect between men and women within this framework of non-reversibility ... It is important that the cause of not imposing on women restrictions that Scripture does not impose should not be confused with the quite different goals of minimizing the distinctness of the sexes as created and of diminishing the male’s inalienable responsibilities in man-woman relationships as such.”]

Stott concludes his chapter: ‘If God endows women with spiritual gifts (which he does), and thereby calls them to exercise their gifts for the common good (which he does), then the church must recognise God’s gifts and calling, must make appropriate spheres of service available to women, and should “ordain” (that is, commission and authorize) them to exercise their God-given ministry, at least in team situations. Our Christian doctrines of Creation and Redemption tell us that God wants his gifted people to be fulfilled not frustrated, and his church to be enriched by their service.’